A Eulogy For The NewStandard

It’s official, as of Friday April 27th 2007 The Newstandard (TNS) officially ceased operations. This is a significant loss for both the independent media ecology, and for citizens who use independent media to stay informed about current events and social issues.

Living up to it’s name The Newstandard truly redefined what independent media can be. For several years TNS made good on its’ mission to provide “bold, hard-hitting daily news coverage, providing a vetted forum for the voices and issues often ignored in the establishment news arena… (while) managed by a collective of journalists and published by a reader-funded nonprofit organization.” A closure look at this mission reveals the multifarious ways TNS broke the independent media mold.

Hard News:
The independent media ecology is dominated by commentary, opinion and analysis, much of it from the same well-known figures. The reason for this preponderance of interpretation is quite simple; producing commentary is much cheaper (often free) than producing investigative hard news. It also doesn’t hurt that there is significant demand for these recognized commentators. Recognizing that independent hard news was almost impossible to find, TNS focused exclusively on hard news. In addition to providing a well-rounded news website, and weekly radio show, TNS produced at least one (often several) hard news pieces every weekday. At COA News we try to put emphasis on hard news ourselves, and we found The NewStandard to be an indispensable resource.

Reader Funded:
If focusing on the most labor intensive news production wasn’t enough; TNS also remained 100% reader funded for the entire three years of operation. Considering the quality of journalism they produced coupled with the fact that TNS was run by young people, they would likely have little trouble getting foundation money. For most of us in the independent media world foundation money is highly sought, yet TNS refused to even consider it. The TNS collective members remained defiant until the end, refusing to go after foundation money, as they believed it would take away a degree of their independence. In fact, TNS also for most part avoided fundraising through merchandise sales as well. To my knowledge, TNS is the only media organization in North America to have several full time staff (although perhaps underpaid), and receive 100% of their resources through membership dues.

Non-profit Non-Commercial:
Despite financial pressures TNS also remained non-profit non-commercial. Many Independent media organizations have this quality as well, but more than a few have commercialized their websites and other operations when faced with resource shortages. Many independent media organizations (particularly some of the recent start-ups) have gone with a for-profit model. One reason for this trend is that it is easier to marshal capital if you are a for-profit entity. It’s easier to get investors for a for-profit project since there is the possibility of getting a positive financial return investments (whereas non-profits depend on donations). Recognizing how that would impact their organizational and editorial independence, TNS steered clear of this option from the begging and never wavered. The recent decision by the OurMedia.org board of directors to transfer (without consulting members) what was a non-profit project into a for-profit private corporation is notable on this point.

Despite espousing progressive values some independent media organizations (as well as many NGOs more generally) are run as highly hierarchal enterprises, with cultural and other forms of capital concentrated at the top. In contrast, at TNS: “All staff participate in ‘balanced job complexes’ which provide a mix of tasks that reflect various levels of empowerment, from managerial to content production to administrative and clerical. All receive equal pay for comparable work and participate fully in collective decisions.”

In our society where hierarchy has been internalized by most, keeping an egalitarian organization going for three years is a success story in itself.

In their announcement to readers, The NewStandard was relatively mute on their reasons for closing down. They simply said they were not satisfied with their level of audience penetration or financial support. TNS has some explaining to do: why not continue to struggle? Why not try accepting a small grant? Why not merge with another project to alleviate some of the administrative work? Are there any future plans for the members of TNS? Any reflections or advice for other independent media makers? TNS did imply that further reflections from the staff would be forthcoming.

As TNS passes into history it is put upon those of us who feel passionately about independent public service media to reflect on how we can avoid further attritions. While we do so lets keep in mind that this is more a trend than an isolated incident. In just the past year two other independent media projects closed their doors; LiP Magazine and Clamour Magazine. Now is the time to analyze this critical situation, and answer important questions; what is causing this trend to occur? How can we advance mechanisms of support for independent media?

These are questions that some have been writing about for some time, most notably Michael Albert, Don Hazen, Jeff Chester, Danny Schechter, Jessica Clark, and Tracy Van Slyke. We need to widen this discussion, so that we have more voices, more ideas, and more opportunity to find a model that works. After all, this is about saving, reviving and bettering not just our media system, but also our democracy.

I can think of nothing else more deserving of our attention.

Update: MediaChannel.org is considering ceasing operations.

This from Media Channel today: “After seven years and a new website redesign, MediaChannel.org may have to cease operations because of a financial emergency. As most of you have already noticed, we have started to run advertising on the website in an effort to deal with our funding challenge. To put it bluntly, the future of Media Channel is in question.”

Media Channel has been a long standing pillar of the independent media landscape, losing them will be another major loss.

Steve Anderson is the publisher at COA News and founder of The Center For Information Awareness. Read other articles by Steve, or visit Steve's website.